May 17, 2016

We don’t want to become a toxic-waste dump

     If the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) wanted to know what Georgians think about coal ash, the agency got an earful last Thursday. People packed the room to listen and respond to EPD’s plan to better regulate the toxic substance. The message was clear from Wayne County: “We don’t want our community to become a toxic-waste dump.”
     I was proud so many made the 500-mile round trip. Joining local citizens was a strong contingency of city officials, along with County Commissioner Mike Roberts. Several spoke and asked poignant questions. Here’s what I said:
     Georgia should adopt strict coal-ash rules, including public notice with a right to object when coal ash is coming to a facility. We need regulation of where coal ash can go and size restrictions on the amounts of coal ash. If Republic hadn’t asked to build a rail spur over wetlands, Wayne County would soon be receiving 10,000 tons per day of toxic coal ash without any public notice. The EPD didn’t require public notice. It has said Republic doesn’t need permission to store 10,000 tons per day of toxic coal ash in a municipal landfill. The public has a right to know and the opportunity to object to the EPD.
     Georgia should regulate and limit toxic coal ash in municipal-waste landfills such as Broadhurst. Currently, there are no EPD regulations on this, and that is an environmental travesty. Coal-ash owners are encouraged to try to put toxic coal ash into municipal solid-waste landfills because of the lack of regulation. Toxic coal ash should never be put in wetlands areas.
     Currently, Georgia has no rule prohibiting toxic coal ash from being stored on existing or former wetlands such as Broadhurst. There should be an outright prohibition of this. The EPA considered this but appears to have waffled after pressure from lobbyists.
     Experts have said that toxic coal ash is, as a matter of fact, radioactive. EPA defines it as “technologically enhanced” radioactive—as opposed to naturally occurring. Georgia categorically excludes toxic coal ash from its radioactive-waste regulations, and that exclusion needs to be eliminated. Doing so would allow consideration of the effects of storing toxic coal ash in a specific location from a health perspective.
     Right now, even though toxic coal ash is radioactive and contains several cancer-causing metals, there is no safety consideration for the storage of toxic coal ash. Georgia and the EPD need to do a better job of “protecting Georgia’s air, land and water resources,” which is the EPD’s mission. Vigorous regulation of toxic coal ash is an excellent place to start fulfilling that mission.
     My final recommendation for today is for Georgia to cut and paste North Carolina’s law about testing drinking-water wells. 
     When the EPA bowed to the pressure not to classify toxic coal ash as hazardous waste, the unintended consequence was to give coal-ash holders a green light to dump this dangerous stuff in places such as the ultra sensitive ecosystem of Broadhurst. Without you—the EPD—taking up the slack in loose, one-size-fits-all regulations, the result will be bad for the 10 million residents of Georgia.
     We urge you to enact regulations to protect Georgians and our environment so that we aren’t
branded as the nation’s destination to dump its toxic waste.
     We are looking to you, the EPD, to protect us and our natural resources. The people of Wayne
County, Southeast Georgia and the rest of our state thank you for listening to our concerns and requests. Our health and welfare are in your hands.